Fung gets ethics panel's OK for radio fill-in role

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Allan Fung is no stranger to the local airwaves.

As Cranston’s mayor since 2009 and a two-time candidate for governor, he has been a regular presence on Rhode Island television and radio stations for the last decade.

Now, he is poised to bring a new dimension to his media presence.

Fung said he has had “general discussions” with WPRO regarding the possibility of serving as a periodic fill-in for the station’s regular talk show hosts during vacations and other absences.

On Tuesday, the Rhode Island Ethics Commission gave its blessing to that arrangement, agreeing with a staff finding that the state’s Code of Ethics does not prohibit the mayor from serving as a fill-in talk radio host.

“I’m excited for this opportunity … It’s something that’s fun and exciting, and something that’s different,” Fung said.

Fung said the possibility of the fill-in role with WPRO emerged based on mutual interest. He noted that he has hosted radio programs in the past as part of a series of special shows with mayors serving as fill-ins.

In a May 30 letter to the Ethics Commission, Fung wrote that he would be compensated as an independent contractor for any radio work and receive a “nominal payment” for any day on which he serves as a fill-in host.

Fung’s letter also mentions “the possibility of political commentating, especially during the upcoming election season, on network television stations.” The mayor said the Ethics Commission advised him to return and seek an opinion regarding that potential secondary employment “as something solidifies more.”

In the letter, Fung describes the mayor’s office as a “full time position” that is “basically a 24 hour, 7 days a week job.” He notes that the city’s charter “only prohibits any elected officer, for the period of that individual’s term, from holding any other office of profit with a city, state or federal government” and includes “no other prohibition with respect to secondary employment with outside private entities.”

The letter also notes that Fung is “not a declared candidate for any office” and is prevented from seeking reelection as mayor due to term limits.

The draft opinion approved by the Ethics Commission on Tuesday states that “there appears to be no evidence that [Fung’s] independent contract work as a fill-in radio talk show host would either impair his independence of judgment as the Mayor of Cranston or create an interest in substantial conflict with his public duties.”

It continues: “Additionally, based upon the Petitioner’s representations, there appears to be no relationship between his public duties as Mayor and his potential work as fill-in radio talk show host, nor would he represent his private employer’s interests before the City.”

The draft opinion does require Fung to “account for any time spent at the radio station, or in preparation” for a radio fill-in appearance. The mayor said the commission approved an amendment during its meeting Tuesday that will require him to “document” that time.

The opinion also prohibits Fung “from using public resources or confidential information obtained as part of his official duties in furtherance of his private duties at the radio station” and from using “his official position to solicit business or customers for the radio station.”

Fung is additionally advised to seek additional ethics guidance in the event that the “occasional fill-in work on the radio leads to an offer to appear on a more regular basis.”

Fung in his fourth term as mayor, having been elected to two-year terms in 2008 and 2010 and – following a change to the city’s charter – four-year terms in 2012 and 2016. The charter changes limited the occupant of the mayor’s office to two, four-year terms, meaning Fung is ineligible to seek reelection in 2020.

Fung was the Republican nominee for governor in both 2014 and 2018, finishing second in each contest to Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo. He has not ruled out a third bid for the governor’s office in 2022.

Asked if he has given further consideration to what he will pursue once his term as mayor ends, Fung declined to discuss specifics.

“I’m just taking a look at different opportunities that pop up,” he said.

Fung’s pursuit of the radio fill-in role has drawn some criticism locally.

In a statement Tuesday morning, Cranston Democratic City Committee Chairman Michael Sepe – who unsuccessfully challenged Fung in the 2016 mayoral race – called Fung’s potential radio role a “stunt” and “yet another attempt to promote himself for another run for the governor’s seat.”

“Cranston is the second-largest city in the Ocean State. It simply cannot afford a part-time mayor. The job requires a full-time effort by law. Anything less is a gross injustice to Cranston’s residents,” Sepe said. “I urge everyone to call Mayor Fung and tell him to do his job. Cranston does not need a Buddy Cianci wannabe as its mayor.”

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